Friday, August 8, 2014

A Boat Seems Small in the Middle of a Storm

 When I was in Israel this past June, I saw the so-called "Jesus Boat," a boat that had been used during the time of Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.  It's not likely that Jesus actually used this boat, but it is the kind of boat Jesus' disciples used for fishing and the kind of boat mentioned in the Gospels.  It is located in Kibbutz Ginnosar on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it was discovered in 1986 by two boys who lived at the kibbutz (communal farm).  The water was low and the boat which had been preserved in mud on the bottom for over 1900 years was exposed  Through a complex excavation and over a decade of preservation, the boat was saved.  Now for a nominal fee and a walk through the gift shop you can see the boat that sailed 2000 years ago.

I've written before about my impressions of the Sea of Galilee.  It's not a sea but a lake and it doesn't match our Great Lakes.  Yet, because of the lake's geography it can be a treacherous place.  It is surrounded by mountains--not like the Rocky Mountains or the Alps but ones that would take a morning to hike up.  There are canyons that split these mountains and when storms come winds whip through those canyons and down on the lake.  The water can get very choppy and storms can get violent. 

When I saw this ancient boat, the same kind Jesus and his disciples would have used, I had a new appreciation for the stories in the Gospels that mention storms on the Sea of Galilee.  The boat is 27 feet long and 7 feet wide, but standing next to it, the boat didn't seem that big.  It seemed to me that once you put a mast on it along with oars (see the model pictured below) any more than 4 men would make it pretty crowded.  It certainly wouldn't offer any shelter during a storm.

Sunday I'm preaching on Matthew 14:22-33 which is Matthew's account of Jesus walking on the water out to the disciples who were on such a boat on the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm.  I wish I had a way to project these pictures of the "Jesus Boat" during my sermon for people to see it and think about the story.  Like me, I think folks would get a feeling for just how vulnerable the disciples were.

Since the disciples in the story think Jesus is a ghost when they first see him on the water coming toward them, some scholars have theorized that this story is actually a post-resurrection vision that was put back into the story of when Jesus was alive. Whether that is true or not, from the perspective of the reader--on this side of the resurrection--we still must decide what we believe about it.  No matter when it happened (for some it may be a matter of if it happened), we must struggle with its meaning for us today (if at all). More importantly than deciding whether or not we believe in miracles like Jesus walking on the water, we have to decide if God is still present for us today in our moments of vulnerability in crisis. 

The reason this story made it into the Gospels is because it was meaningful to the first Christians.  Most of them would not have been witnesses of the resurrection but would have heard about it second or even third hand.  They had to decide if the story of Christ being risen from the dead and making the presence of God real among them made any difference for their circumstances.  We have to make that same decision of faith--is God real? can God be present in my moments of crisis? will God help me when I am vulnerable and afraid?

The declaration of the Gospels is that Jesus has the power to bring peace to us in the midst of storms and chaos.  Each of us must wrestle with whether or not we trust such a promise.  
Grace and Peace,


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